How Your Online Privacy May Become Threatened By Common Internet Activities

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Ways American Online Privacy Can Be Compromised

The following are different ways your personal privacy can be compromised:

  • Completing warranty and product registration cards. If you return the warranty card, give only your name, address and information about the product you purchased. These can produce junk mail, email or telemarketing calls.
  • Joining or donating money to clubs, organizations, or charities. Tell them in writing not to sell or exchange your name with other groups. These can produce junk mail, email or telemarketing calls.
  • Subscribing to magazines, book clubs and music/CD clubs. Tell them not to sell your name. These can produce junk mail, email or telemarketing calls.
  • Listing your phone number & address in your local and online phone books. Omit your address or be unlisted. These can produce junk mail, telemarketing calls or unwanted contacts.
  • Agreeing to the policies of a website without fully understanding them simply by using the website or downloading the software. Some websites (stores, banks, or health services) need to collect personal information from their customers like social security numbers or banking information to complete a transaction with consumers. Most of these websites have privacy policies that tell consumers what information is collected, how it is used, for how long it is stored, whether they sell or give customers’ personal information or preferences to third parties, and how you can opt-out of lists for promotions or third parties. However, many times these privacy policies are written so complexly that the average person can’t understand all or the majority of what they are agreeing to. Remember that privacy policies not only inform the consumer but also provide legal protection for the website.
  • Think twice before completing marketing-related questionnaires.
  • Before participating in health screenings offered in shopping malls and other public places, find out the uses of medical information collected.
  • Use caution when visiting self-help or health-related websites and participating in online discussion groups.
  • Companies and websites can change privacy policies (how they use your information) at any time. If they go bankrupt or change ownership, their database of user information could be sold.
  • A website based in the USA must honor its posted privacy policy. The website is not required to remove your information if it does not have a policy for information removal even if you submit a written request. You can contact the Federal Trade Commission if you believe the website is not honoring its posted privacy policy. If you believe information about an individual, website or company posted at a website is false or libelous, contact an attorney. If there is harassment or threat of physical danger, contact the police immediately. Realize that some things online may never be removed.
  • Even if you believe the store, website, or company would not sell or rent your information (what you bought, where you went, what you searched for, whom you contacted) to an unscrupulous marketer, your personal information is not protected under American law from:
    • a court order to retrieve your information
    • being sold in bankruptcy proceedings
    • hackers

Here are two examples of different ways your personal privacy can be compromised where you, the American consumer and/or the owner of the information, have no control of the situation:

  • Any wireless network without or with only limited or not updated encryption is vulnerable. Example: you make a purchase at a retail store that uses a wireless connection to send your payment information for approval. Your card does not leave your sight. The receipt shows only the last four digits of your card number. You did everything correctly. But, the network is not updated with the latest encryption. Someone outside the store can read and save your payment information from a computer within range. Your payment information is now stolen and you will not know until charges appear on your monthly statement or unknown accounts appear on your credit report depending on the intention of the thief.
  • Data brokers, financial companies and institutions, stores, or government agencies have an unintentional network breach through a hacker or third party error and now your personal information is available at the intention of the thief or intruder. This includes government issued identification, social security information, credit or debit card information, banking information.

This post is part of the series: American Online Privacy

This series considers whether Americans can protect their online privacy and how it can be compromised.

  1. Online Privacy Guide for Americans (Part 1 of 2)
  2. Online Privacy Guide for Americans (Part 2 of 2)